Thesis subject

MSc thesis topic: Exploring resilience in Socio Ecological Systems

This thesis topic combines Agent Based Modelling with methods that can be used to quantify the resilience of a Social-Ecological Systems.

Many land use systems are affected by climate change and social and sociotechnical developments, such as urbanization pressure and the energy transition. For the management of these systems it is relevant to consider their resilience, i.e., the capacity of the systems to deal with perturbations or recover from them. Land use systems can generally be considered as complex social-ecological systems (SES) composed of interacting ecological and human components (Ostrom 2009). Modelling and simulation is a common approach to aid the decision making and management. In particular, Agent Based Modelling (ABM) as it enables modellers to give explicit quantitative descriptions of the rules that govern the individual components of the systems, i.e., the human agents. The analysis of such an ABM is a crucial step to understand the dynamics of the SES and what can be done to manage them. This analysis is often complicated by the nonlinear nature of the many (feedback) interactions that are intrinsic to these systems.

This thesis is aimed at the development and/or application of existing or new methods that can indicate when a system becomes unstable, i.e., is about to face a sudden shift. This information is crucial to estimate the effects of proposed actions (or the effect of doing nothing) on the state of land use systems. Various methods are proposed (Scheffer, Carpenter et al. 2015), for instance based on the analysis of changing variance (Scheffer, Carpenter et al. 2015), or the application of sensitivity analysis methods. (ten Broeke, van Voorn et al. 2017).

Relevance to research/projects

This project will be carried-out jointly with Biometris


The goal is to explore, test and compare various methods for analysing the stability of a land use SES system described by an ABM of the land use system.


  • Ostrom, E. (2009). "A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems." Science 325(5939): 419-422.
  • Scheffer, M., S. R. Carpenter, V. Dakos and E. H. v. Nes (2015). "Generic Indicators of Ecological Resilience: Inferring the Chance of a Critical Transition." Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 46(1): 145-167.
  • ten Broeke, G. A., G. A. K. van Voorn, A. Ligtenberg and J. Molenaar (2017). "Resilience through adaptation." PLOS ONE 12(2): e0171833.


  • Affinity with ABM, e.g. in Netlogo, GAMA, Python, or a similar software language
  • Knowledge of Python or R for data analysis and the implementation of the analysis method

Theme(s): Modelling & visualisation; Human – space interaction